Engaging Critical Thinking

We’re still learning how the Internet is affecting communication. It’s clear, though, that our daily online experience has fundamentally altered the act of reading. I’ll let Alan Kirby, a PhD in twentieth-century literature and culture, explain via metaphor what’s going on here:

If literary research is like marriage (a mind entwined with the tastes, whims, and thoughts of another for years) and ordinary reading is like dating (a mind entwined with another for a limited, pleasure-governed but intimate time), then Internet reading often resembles gazing from a second-floor window at the passersby on the street below. It’s dispassionate and uninvolved, and implicitly embraces a sense of frustration, an incapacity to engage.

–Alan Kirby, Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture, 2009, pp. 67-8.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the average reader needs to enter the marriage that is literary research, but I am suggesting that ordinary reading (the dating in Kirby’s analysis) is a lost art in the post-Internet age.

Most people skim articles for information and then move on to the next enticing mouse-click, wherein they skim again, digesting little beyond the juicy headline. When it’s a piece on Jennifer Aniston getting engaged, this is often an effective strategy. After all, we’ve yet to read the next link regarding Kristen Stewart and her cheating ways.

But treading the surface of facts without diving in and immersing oneself in the whole story goes beyond reading articles and into thinking critically, especially where politics is concerned.

Politicians have always been hard to read; now it’s nearly impossible. The practical implications of our ignorance are mounting. How can we make informed decisions about Mitt Romney or President Obama if we only skim their sound bites and talking points?

Looking out the window at passersby might be temporarily pleasing, but to peek out the curtains for a few seconds is a terrible approach when you’re choosing the leader of the free world. Let’s take critical thinking out for dinner and a movie before November 6. We might just fall in love with reasoning.